Even interpreting "science fiction" quite broadly—as we will do throughout this essay—we find startlingly little interest in a kind of writing with proven appeal for a wide range of readers—in many ways precisely the kind of writing one would expect to have most excited those in charge at An Gúm, people never faulted for their elite standards in literature... original Gaelic works of science fiction are thin on the ground and thoroughly mediocre.What there is of it, O'Leary surveys pretty comprehensively, devoting a reasonable chunk of the essay to the works of Cathal Ó Sándair, "whose productivity and sales figures will almost certainly never be matched by any other writer of Irish."
To get an idea of Ó Sándair's approach we can focus here on An Captaen Spéirling, Spás-Phíolóta (Captaen Spéirling, Space-pilot) (Dublin, 1961). The story is set in 2000, when the earth's most precious resource, uranium, is running out and war for what remains is imminent. An Irish scientist has, however, determined that there is an abundant supply on the moon. The Irish government benevolently decides to fund a mission to prove his theory and then secure and distribute the uranium to all countries on earth in need of it... Ó Sándair's astronauts travel in a real rocket built and launched on the Curragh of Kildare. On the moon they discover a humanoid civilization whose members still bear the disfiguring scars of their own nuclear holocaust. The Irish manage to overcome their suspicions, win their trust, and acquire a huge supply of uranium on condition that it never be used to make weapons. More importantly, the moon people share with their new friends their own greatest technological advance, "so-ghaethe" (good rays), energy beams that immediately neutralize feelings of aggression and cause an overwhelming desire to cooperate. Needless to say, when the astronauts return to Ireland, their government arranges for these rays to be made available through the UN to every country on earth.O'Leary does find one or two sparks of hope for the future, though more in the line of a sort of urban Celtic magical realism, including
Tomás Mac Síomóin's Ag Altóir an Diabhail (2003), where contemporary Ireland's cultural identity crisis is mirrored by the entirely unreliable narrator's obsession with a lifelike robotic sex partner with interchangeable heads—he opts for Hilary Clinton and Mary Robinson.I slightly question O'Leary's analysis on one point: he buys into the widely-held view that interest in speaking and learning Irish tended to preclude any parallel interest in science. My own investigations (as part of my thesis, on-line separately here) lead me to conclude that the relationship is a bit more complex than that. But O'Leary's observations are an important piece of evidence against my own revisionism.